The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

23 December 2006

606 and all that

While laughing my way through another screenful of Iowahawk satire, I found myself pondering this Tale of True-ish History, not least because I was born not so far away from Chicago, geographically and chronologically. And being the geek I am, I naturally zeroed in on the least-compelling aspect of it:

[T]he best back story of all belongs to the 606 Club at 606 S. Wabash. By all accounts this discreet gentleman's club — which started as a Prohibition-era speakeasy — was the swankiest joint in town, with the prettiest girls, and catered to a clientele of the rich and powerful. Among them was a young Chicago magazine publisher named Hugh Hefner, who used the 606 as a model for the new "Playboy Club" he would open on the Northside in 1960.

The 606 was also a nexus for Chicago's powerful political machine. Its owner, Louis W. Nathan, was Democratic precinct captain for the city's First Ward and was a ninja in the ancient Chicago art of vote manufacturing. In fact, he was convicted of election fraud in 1956 for his part in a 1954 vote-rigging scheme. The conviction cost him his job as precinct captain, but not his liquor license; and the 606 continued to be a popular destination for locals and visitors alike. According to legend, the 606 Club is the site where Nathan, Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley, and a Massachusetts senator named Jack Kennedy first worked out a plan to deliver enough Chicago "votes" for Kennedy to take the 1960 presidential election.

The kicker: according to the same legend, when the first US postal zip codes were being assigned in the early days of the Kennedy administration, both Kennedy and Daley insisted on the strangely out-of-sequence "606" prefix for all Chicago zip codes, as an eternal tribute and inside joke.

Snopes hasn't addressed this, so I decided to look at the map, which looks something like this:

USA Zip Code regions

A quick glance indicates that this distribution isn't quite as weird as it sounds: if heading west from 4 to 6 is offputting, clearly heading west from 3 to 7 should be more so, and no one seems concerned about that. If the 3000 potential Illinois Zips were reassigned to the 5 range, you'd have to pull 3000 out of the rest of the region somehow, and the only way to do that and still maintain the appearance of continuity is to reassign Montana and the Dakotas to the 6 range. (Of course, Montana looks like it should be an 8 no matter what, but that's another issue.)

As for 606 in Chicago specifically, the numbers there follow a standard USPS pattern: lower numbers in the 'burbs, the higher ones in the city. (Atlanta, for instance, is 303xx; it's surrounded by 300 through 302.) 600 and 601 are to the north; 604 and 605 are to the south. (602 and 603 are Aurora and Oak Park respectively.) New York and Los Angeles don't follow this rule, but this is because their specific post offices cover only a small part of their cities; mail from the San Fernando Valley is postmarked Van Nuys. If they really did rig this setup, they certainly made it look ordinary.

A really rigged deal: In Canada, Santa Claus has his own postal code — H0H 0H0.

Posted at 5:05 PM to Dyssynergy

Those Canadians are full of it. Everyone knows Santa Claus' zip code 99705.

Posted by: McGehee at 7:34 PM on 23 December 2006